‘Dawnland’ brings a new narrative
The University hosted a screening of the documentary “Dawnland” as part of the Intercultural Center’s annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Teach-In on Oct. 18. The film, directed by Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip, looks at the history of the forced removal of Native American children from their families into foster homes and contemporary efforts to create opportunities for healing. The documentary mainly focuses on the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s experience connecting with the victims of the compulsory foster programs. It records both the progress they made and the challenges they encountered.
Overall, “Dawnland” is a well-crafted documentary that takes a non-traditional approach by presenting the current status of the foster children and exploring how the Truth and Reconciliation program has affected those who had suppressed their traumas for decades. Many films, fictional and documentary alike, have addressed the Indian reservations and the challenges that they have faced. However, few films have addressed the issue of those who were forced to merge into mainstream culture. Facing a group of people whose families and cultures were stripped from them when they were barely teenagers, the production crew did their best to expose their traumas and wounds while treating them with as much sympathy and respect as a camera lens can offer.
This film holds a very clear opinion about the appropriate form for the process of reconciliation, and did not maintain a balance of voices. As I already mentioned, what separates this film from others is its focus on indigenous people who live in non-indigenous communities. Considering that the healing process involves not only the victims but everyone in their communities, non-indigenous voices are just as important. After all, reconciliation is about making peace with the past, not condemnation or castigation.
It is understandable that the TRC leadership prioritizes reconciliation out of its many goals, and it was up to the producers of the film to present the voices of the adoptive families who were willing to help but feel, reasonably or not, rejected. The film touches on the dilemma of reconciliation but ends right afterward without addressing it at all.
In recent years, more filmmakers have begun to create projects that touch on the current status of the indigenous people of the United States and how damage from 200 years ago still troubles the descendants of those who survived. Both the subjects of “Dawnland” and its producers have clear, strong opinions about its subject matter, which prevents the film from being objective and balanced. However, I am thrilled to see a documentary on this topic, as it deserves more attention than just a sub-chapter of American history textbooks.